Ascletis Pharmaceuticals hopes to take a liver cancer treatment to China.

The RTP-based startup, which also has a headquarters in China, has licensed rights to a potential drug from Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.

The deal includes rights to develop and commercialize ALN-VSP, which attacks cancer utilizing RNA interference technology.

Ascletis, which launched a year ago with $100 million in capital commitments, gains geographic rights to China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

Alnylam will receive milestone payments and royalties.

“Liver cancers, and specifically HCC, are a major unmet need in China, which has the highest incidence of this aggressive cancer in the world,” said Jinzi J. Wu, Ph.D., chief executive officer of Ascletis. “No effective therapies currently exist for this disease. Alnylam is a global leader in the development of innovative RNAi-based therapies, and we are pleased to be collaborating with them in the war on cancer.

“We are very encouraged by the clinical data that have emerged to date from their ALN-VSP program,” he added. “We believe that their Phase I results in liver cancers – which included one patient who achieved a complete response and several others who have achieved prolonged stable disease — clearly support further development of this novel medicine, and we look forward to bringing this first-in-class therapy to patients in need.”

The drug has completed Phase 1 trials. 

RNAi (RNA interference) focuses on how genes are turned on and off in cells. The companies say it is “a completely new approach to drug discovery and development.”